Livingston, Montana is where we felt our project take on a life of its own. The quaint, classic downtown perfectly sits under one of Montana’s most picturesque mountain ranges. Home to the most famous authors of any city in the United States, Livingston gave us two of the most memorable days of the summer.
After crawling our way off the mountain we failed to summit and sleeping for about 12 hours, we arrived in Livingston ready to embrace the Northern Gateway to Yellowstone. We bumbled around a couple of blocks before wandering into the Livingston Depot, full of art and memorabilia detailing the town’s history. Here we met Tress, a dedicated local originally from the southern US. The way he fully opened up and shared his story immediately clued us in to how special this town is.
I was running a bakery in Nashville and went over to North Carolina to ride motorcycles with a buddy of mine, and came around a corner and […] shattered my leg. The North Carolina doctors… they crippled me. The guy who rebuilt my leg did the best he could, but they suggested cutting it off. I wasn’t too keen on that idea, I was rather attached to that leg.
So, I decided I wanted to go to Yellowstone first, I had always wanted to go. I came up here for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, Friday afternoon, I started packing up and thought […] maybe I’ll just stay another week. So I stayed another week… and another. Every Friday, I say, “Why don’t I stay another week?”
It’s been ten years.
Immediately taken aback and entranced by Tress’s story and his candor, we clung onto his every word. He had an incredible way of explaining the undeniable draw to this unique place.
No matter how many times I go back to the same spot, there’s always something new. The formations in Yellowstone, people don’t realize how fast they change. They look totally different season by season.
As a landscape and wildlife photographer, Tress shared with us a bit of where this passion comes from.
With my injuries, the pain is 24/7. When I get out behind that camera, I don’t feel anything. My whole focus is right on that lens and everything else just goes away.
Before we finished our interview, I asked Tress what advice he would’ve given to himself before his near-fatal accident.
Oh if only I knew what I know now. As soon as I graduated, I would’ve moved here.
Meeting Tress immediately after arriving in Livingston felt to Alex and I like a sign of how wonderful of a place this is. We walked around the Depot for a bit, enjoying the posters from commercials and movies shot in the town. We wandered over to the Murray Hotel, a 115 year old building smack in the middle of Livingston. There, we met Malcolm, a friendly and outgoing manager at the hotel.
I’m from Ohio, I came to work in Yellowstone National Park when I was 21 years old. I was supposed to stay out here for 3 months; I’ve been here for 6 years.
I thought I was gonna be camping for a couple months and working in Yellowstone, spending my 21st birthday and year there. Then, I went back home and really missed the connections out here, so I decided to stay out here. Been out here ever since!
Okay, now we were really onto something. Essentially the first two people we had talked to in Livingston were transplants who couldn’t bear to leave. Part of what inspires Malcolm is the history in the town – especially the place he works.
Of the buildings downtown, 80% are on the historical registry list. We get a lot of travelers here, especially international. Places like Europe, China, and they choose to come here for their vacation. I love talking to them about it.
As we wrapped up our conversation with Malcolm, the anticipated street fair drew closer. We had serendipitously arrived in Livingston the day of “Give a Hoot” – a fundraising fair attended by thousands of locals and visitors.
One street over, Give a Hoot was booming. Live music, vendors stretched multiple blocks, and people everywhere crowded Livingston’s downtown streets. Giddily wandering through the hubbub, Alex and I soaked in our only night in what quickly became our favorite town. We treated ourselves to a Huckleberry Spritz (a Montana twist on an Aperol Spritz that often sneaks its way into my thoughts), and began chatting with the bartender there. Their little booth was stationed outside of The Sport, a classic restaurant recently taken over by a Chicago chef, Jordan.
We were enamored by Jordan’s visionary energy. He told us all about his move to Montana, and why he chose this small town. After enjoying more live music, we circled back to The Sport to enjoy the end of our night with new friends. Deciding that we couldn’t let our Livingston experience end here, we extended our stay an extra half day to be able to sit down with Jordan for an interview.
I came to the conclusion after being in a large metropolitan area that after a decade and a half, it wasn’t sustainable or making me happy. I thought that making a bunch of money and building a successful business would scratch that itch, but it didn’t.
So I sold it and took a job here, literally on a phone call. That’s why I ended up in Montana.
From the second we met Jordan, he made us feel at home in his brand new restaurant. He clearly demonstrated to us from the beginning how he feels about giving customers the absolute best experience possible.
Customer service expectations are very low these days. Most people think its a job that’s beneath them, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve had interactions with people that have been life-changing. Part of our core mission statement is trying to change this.
The weekend we were in Bozeman, we ended up traveling back to Livingston for a Friday night dinner cooked by Jordan. Undeniably, unanimously one of the best meals we had ever eaten. He began with a light, pear and walnut salad paired with an earth-shaking cocktail before serving us homemade gnocchi with fresh mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and various other fresh ingredients that still haunt my dreams. In asking Jordan why he has decided to pursue a life in Livingston, he gave us the most honest and accurate answer.
I’ve seen a place that attracts a fabulous selection of weirdos. The people that are magnetically drawn to this place are just great. There’s a ton of people from film, music, and theatre here – it’s a really strong cultural scene for a town of 7500 people.
People who visit, they all say the same thing. They’re slightly smitten with this weird little town and nobody can quite put their finger on why… but it has this sort of indefinable quality that’s… I don’t know. Just nice.
Jordan had traveled so many places, finally finding his home in Livingston.
Oh I’m staying. I’m not going anywhere. They’ll have to kick me out.
I find it easier to breathe here.
We had certainly felt a weight lifted while we were in Livingston. The ease and charm of the town allowed us to just slow down, talk to people, and soak it in. As other stressors try to penetrate our mind, both Alex and I do our best to remember Tress’s words and bring our minds back to the peace we experienced in Montana.
When you breathe in this fresh air and truly relax, it doesn’t matter how stressful things get. When you go and sit on top of a mountain, everything just goes away.
In Livingston, we made friends. We appreciated and made connections in the other towns we visited, but Montana was where we truly began to see Small Towns to Summits fully take form. All the residents we talked to have a deep, meaningful connection with the surrounding mountain ranges, Yellowstone River, or great green plains in some way. All three people we interviewed were transplants who had made Livingston their home without ever planning on it. We have to admit it, some day we might have to make it back to Livingston ourselves.
Keep your eye out for an upcoming VLOG post on our time in Livingston! And, in case you missed it, last Wednesday we shared our video documentation of our summit attempt of Mt. Wood. Head to our YouTube page for a fun video filled with greasy hair, a bit of swearing, and live footage of the tough decision we made to turn around.